Halloween Hazard: Never Buy Decorative Contact Lenses Without a Prescription

Written By: Dan T. Gudgel
Sep. 14, 2018

Just 10 hours after she first put in a pair of colored contact lenses that she’d bought at a souvenir shop, Laura Butler of Parkersburg, W.Va., had “extreme pain in both eyes,” she said. “Because I had not been properly fitted by an eye care professional, the lenses stuck to my eye like a suction cup.”

Colored contact lenses are popular year-round for people who want to change the color of their iris. But every year at Halloween there is a surge of people using colored contact lenses to enhance their costumes.

However, few know the risks associated with these lenses. “Most people believe that decorative lenses do not require the same level of care or consideration as a standard contact lens because they can be purchased over-the-counter or on the Internet,” says Thomas Steinemann, MD, professor of ophthalmology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “This is far from the truth.”

It’s illegal to sell any contact lenses without a prescription in the United States. All contact lenses are medical devices that require a prescription and proper fitting by an eye-care professional. “Many of the lenses found online or in beauty salons, novelty shops or in pop-up Halloween stores are not FDA-approved and are being sold illegally,” Dr. Steinemann said. Retailers that sell contacts without a prescription are breaking the law and could be fined for each violation.

Never buy colored contact lenses from a retailer who doesn’t ask for a prescription. Even if you have perfect vision, you need to get an eye exam and a prescription from an eye care professional before you wear any kind of contact lens. In Butler’s case, the lenses caused an infection and left her with a corneal abrasion. “I was in severe pain and on medication for four weeks and couldn’t see well enough to drive for eight weeks,” she said. “I now live with a corneal scar, vision damage and a drooping eyelid.”

To safely wear costume contact lenses for Halloween or any time of year, follow these guidelines:

  • Get an eye exam from a licensed eye care professional such as an ophthalmologist — an eye medical doctor — who will measure each eye and talk to you about proper contact lens care.
  • Obtain a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements and expiration date.
  • Purchase the colored contact lenses from a retailer who asks for a prescription.
  • Follow the contact lens care directions for cleaning, disinfecting and wearing the lenses.
  • Never share contact lenses with another person.
  • Get follow-up exams as directed with your eye care provider.

If you notice redness, swelling, excessive discharge, pain or discomfort from wearing contact lenses, remove the lenses and seek immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist. Eye infections can become serious very quickly and sometimes the damage is not reversible.